Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) loves his work as a biology professor; for many years he has dreamed of writing a book about the swarm intelligence of ants. So far, however, no one has really taken any notice of him; he is an inconspicuous person in whom hardly anyone, apart from his wife Janet (Julianne Nicholson), is interested. This only changes when he starts appearing in other people’s dreams. At first he reacts from confused to irritated, all the more so because he doesn’t do anything in these dreams and watches idly as something bad happens to people. When he later becomes a media sensation and is also courted by Trent (Michael Cera), head of a marketing company, he enjoys the attention and wants to take the opportunity to publish his book. But then the story takes an unexpected turn…
A grotesque dream comedy
Hardly any other acting filmography is as varied as that of Nicolas Cage. After starting his career as a real character actor, he later found himself stuck in the B action thriller assembly line due to his enormous debts. These have now been paid off, which is why he wants to be much more selective. In fact, in addition to all the throwaway titles, he has already starred in a number of very idiosyncratic works in recent years. Whether it’s the self-deprecating ex-star grotesque Massive Talent, the pig drama Pig or the comedy Renfield about a toxic vampire relationship, it’s a joy to see how the American has celebrated an artistic comeback. The films may not have been successful, but they were entertaining. And that also applies to his latest prank, Dream Scenario.
The idea is strange: A man appears in other people’s dreams, even of people he doesn’t even know – and doesn’t do anything. Dream Scenario plays with this absurdity and likes to work with contrasts between dangerous situations and the passivity of the protagonist, who is so inconspicuous that no one really remembers him. He watches the most terrible things happen without helping or even really being there. At this stage the film is a mixture of comedy and mystery. The audience is allowed to laugh at the grotesque dream scenes and wants to know what they are all about. How come such a nobody appears in these dreams? And how can you make it all stop again?
Between satire and tragedy
One thing in advance: Anyone who wants an answer to these questions will not be served. Of course you can speculate about everything, just like the characters do. It just doesn’t lead to anything. For Kristoffer Borgli this aspect is not really relevant. Instead, as in his celebrated Sick of Myself, the Norwegian director and screenwriter is interested in human behavior, the longing for recognition and also connects this with social aspects. How does someone deal with sudden fame? But also: How does society deal with it? Dream Scenario has clearly satirical features, especially in the passages in which Paul’s “talent” is intended to be used commercially. In the same way, Borgli makes fun of the mass hysteria when people become sensations and are later thrown away again as soon as the next nonsensical hype comes along.
The latter also brings with it a strong tragedy. Even though the film is generally described as a comedy, it is very sad at times and becomes very bitter towards the end. Dream Scenario may be a film about bizarre dreams. But it is also a film about failed dreams, missed opportunities in life and the search for meaning when nothing makes sense anymore. Not everyone will like this. The work, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2023, is difficult to pigeonhole with its tonal fluctuations. Sometimes it’s even classified as horror, which doesn’t fit as well as science fiction, another attempt to make tangible what isn’t tangible. But if you can live with the fact that the film is not very concrete in its exuberant creativity, you will find further proof here that there is no one like Nicolas Cage. Even if he plays a nobody.
A man inexplicably appears in the dreams of others and becomes a sensation. “Dream Scenario” is an unconventional work that deals with themes such as fame and hysteria in a satirical way, but can also become very tragic. As with “Sick of Myself”, Kristoffer Borgli proves that he is currently one of the most interesting filmmakers in Europe, even if his peculiar mix of genres defies clear answers and pigeonholes.